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Xcel cuts emissions 12% last year—and delivered investors handsome returns

Xcel Energy during 2020 reduced carbon emissions across its eight-state service territory by 12% as compared to 2019 levels. This comes after a 10% reduction in 2019 as compared to 2018 levels.

Since 2005, Xcel has reduced carbon emissions by 51%.

“Even after factoring in the effect of the global pandemic on our operations, we are well on our way to achieving our goal of reducing carbon emissions 80% by 2030 and are more than halfway to delivering 100% carbon-free electricity to our customers, all while keeping their service reliable and energy bills low,” said Ben Fowke, chief executive of Xcel Energy.

A release from Xcel pointed out that the U.S. electric power sector has reduced carbon emissions 40% by the end of 2020 as compared to 2005. It cited data from the U.S. Energy Information Administration.

“We’re making tremendous progress toward delivering on our clean energy goals,” said Fowke.

Xcel has been expanding in wind and using natural gas generation as a backup, reducing use of its coal plants.

In Colorado, Xcel subsidiary Public Service Co. was 36% non-carbon electric generation in 2020, with 26% coal and 38% natural gas.

Combing the Public Service Co. filing with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, energy activist Leslie Glustrom of Clean Energy Action points out that the company had $588 million in after-tax net income in 2020, up $10 million from the year before, despite the pandemic.

Residential revenue per kilowatt-hour was 11.46 cents. For large commercial customers, revenue was 6.51 cents a kilowatt-hour.

In Boulder, where Glustrom lives, she estimated that Xcel had after-tax profits of $23.5 million.

“Nice business if you can get it… but of course you can’t,” she added, an allusion to the vote by Boulder voters in November to approve a franchise agreement with Xcel after a decade of exploring municipalization of the power supply.

This is from Big Pivots, an e-magazine tracking the energy and water transitions in Colorado and beyond. Subscribe at bigpivots.com

Xcel Energy depends upon coal from Wyoming’s Powder River mines for the Comanche and Pawnee plants, which are located at Pueblo and Brush. Those Wyoming mines have been much in the news this year.

The Eagle Butte and Belle Ayr mines used to be sole suppliers to Xcel’s two coal plants in eastern Colorado. The operator of those mines, Blackjewel, went belly-up, leaving a lot of unpaid debts. The Powder River Resource Council reported that a legal filing disclosed that over $32 million in royalties on the federal coal leases at the Belle Ayr Mine remained unpaid and that $27.8 million on royalties were unpaid at the Eagle Butte Mine. There are also debts to Wyoming’s state government.

Meanwhile, mining behemoth Peabody Coal lost $1.9 billion in 2020, while Arch is looking to reduce operations in the Power River Basin.

“This all raises questions about how long Xcel will have a reasonably priced coal supply for the Brush and Pueblo coal plants—and this is, of course, going to be a key question in their 2021 electric source plan,” says Glustrom.

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